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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Paget   7 July 1875

1, Harewood Place, | Hanover Square. | W.

July 7. 1875

My dear Darwin

Pardon my writing on a railway and let me thank you for your book on Insectivorous Plants.—1the more at this time because, while reading it, I have been thoroughly enjoying myself on what might have been a very dull long journey.— But neither my reading nor my thanks are yet ended—

I am charmed with your suggestion that fairy-rings illustrate the insusceptibility of soils,—whether bloods, tissues, or earths—that have been once infected—2 I have sometimes vaguely thought so, but you make me nearly sure— I have been told that fairy-rings sometimes appear very quickly,—large and complete rings appearing where no small ones were before— I do not know if this ever happens, and I must admit that my informant ascribed the occurrence to electricity; but he said he had observed it on his own lawn—3 If such rings are ever complete from the first, I have thought there might be mutual illustration between them and some annular diseases which one sees in the skin— Some forms of Herpes are from the first annular.— still more often some forms of Psoriasis and of syphilitic ulcers; and when these begin in rings or parts of rings, they usually extend only outwards, and if they meet they coalesce but do not cross— I will try to set some one to work this out—

And, I will not forget your wish for cases of re-growth of amputated members.4

I think I can soon find them and I will send them to you directly—

Always sincerely your’s | James Paget.

Charles Darwin Esq.


Paget’s name is on CD’s presentation list for Insectivorous plants (Appendix IV).
Fairy-rings are commonly found in grass and woodland where feeding threads of underground fungi spread outwards in widening circles. In lawns, the grass above the fungus may be killed or growth at the periphery of the fungus stimulated, resulting in rings of lush grass with brown or dead grass in between (see Gregory 1982). No letter from CD to Paget on this subject has been found; see, however, the letter to J. S. Burdon Sanderson, 16 July 1875.
The informant has not been identified. On nineteenth-century explanations for fairy-rings, including electricity, see Lees 1868, pp. 215–23.
CD had discussed the regeneration of tissues and appendages in Variation 2: 376–7; he was currently preparing Variation 2d ed. (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).


Gregory, P. H. 1982. Fairy rings; free and tethered. Bulletin of the British Mycological Society 16: 161–3.

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

Lees, Edwin. 1868. On the formation of fairy rings and the fungi that inhabit them. [Read 9 October 1868.] Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club (1868): 211–24.

Variation 2d ed.: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1875.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Thanks for Insectivorous plants.

Intrigued by the analogy between fairy-rings and annular skin diseases, e.g., herpes and psoriasis.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Paget, 1st baronet
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Harewood Place, 1
Source of text
DAR 174: 9
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10048,” accessed on 13 June 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23